Mold is, unfortunately, a fairly common household nuisance. It’s a fungus that can be found almost anywhere, but in homes, it often pops up in areas that are prone to moisture, like basements and bathrooms.
We’re actually exposed to mold everyday, and usually, we aren’t phased by it because mold spores are relatively harmless in small amounts. However, when mold is growing on a surface that you come in contact with everyday, you can be exposed to larger amounts of mold spores and that can lead to health problems.
There are several different types of mold that often show up in homes. While they all can cause allergies, some, like stachybotrys chartarum (aka black mold) can lead to more serious breathing problems over time. That’s why it’s important to learn how to identify the most common mold types so you know what you’re dealing and how to get rid of it in the safest way.
Mold can come into your home a number of different ways. It can come through windows and doors, heating and cooling vents; mold spores can even attach themselves to clothing, shoes and pet hair and be carried inside that way. Once they’re inside, if they land on any continuously moist areas, like pipes, damp walls and even potted plants, they can grow into full-fledged mold.
Wet cellulose materials, such as drywall, cardboard, some ceiling tiles and various wood products, are particularly attractive to mold. However, they can also grow in carpet, on upholstery and even in paint. These materials can become damp if there’s a persistent leak from a pipe, window, door or roof. With that in mind, here are some rooms where leaks tend to happen more often and are thus hot spots for mold growth:
That doesn’t mean mold can’t grow in other parts of your house, but if you suspect mold has entered your home and can’t yet find visible proof, these are some good places to start looking.
The three most common types of mold are Penicillium, Cladosporium, and Aspergillus.
Penicillium is typically blue or blue-green in color, and there are over 200 varieties of it. It loves to grow on fabrics, walls and insulation. Spores of Penicillium can cause allergic reactions like sneezing, coughing, wheezing and watery eyes in people. They’ve also been linked to asthma development in children.
Aspergillus is often found in stored grain and decaying vegetation that might be in your fridge. While its spores are usually harmless for most people, it can lead to aspergillosis in some immune-compromised people, which is a serious lung infection and should be treated with care.
Like the two other common mold types above, Cladosporium can be found wherever it’s damp, and usually doesn’t lead to any serious health problems. However, it can worsen asthma in people who already have it, and in rare instances, it can lead to lung infections. It usually appears in clusters of black, green or yellow spots.
With over 250 varieties, Alternia is the most common type of household mold. Like the others, it’s typically harmless, but there are certain strains that can ramp up your allergies, and worsen breathing problems in those already susceptible to them.
Also referred to as toxic black mold, stachybotrys chartarum is most commonly associated with adverse health risks. It prefers damp drywall and very high humidity levels, so it commonly forms in southern parts of the country that are near bodies of water. Black mold is considered toxic because it can release mycotoxins that can make you seriously ill if you ingest enough of them. Some symptoms mycotoxin ingestion can cause are headaches, memory loss, nosebleeds, aching, and mood changes.
No matter the type, mold can be removed safely, you just have to determine how extensive the infestation is first. If you can see mold covering more than 10 feet of surface area, or if areas of your home have an intense musty smell, it’s time to call in a professional. At that point, the mold has likely gone beyond what you can see on the walls or floors, so exploratory work will need to be done.
If the mold is relatively isolated, however, you can likely handle it yourself, even if it’s black mold. It’s all about taking the proper precautions.
Make sure to wear rubber gloves, goggles a medical-grade face mask and clothing that covers all your skin so mold spores can’t attach themselves to you.
The most effective product for killing mold is bleach, but you’ll need to dilute it with water (1 part bleach to 8 parts water for porous surfaces, 1 part bleach to 16 parts water for tiled surfaces), and make sure the area is well ventilated as bleach fumes can be toxic. If you prefer to use a less intense product, hydrogen peroxide will also do the trick.
On porous materials like wood and drywall, it’s a good idea to add detergent to your bleach/water solution to really get the mixture to adhere to and kill the mold.
Getting mold off of tile and grout can involve some elbow grease (and a good, rough sponge), but if you can get a cleaning product with bleach in it that clings to surfaces, it should help the job go quicker. Once you’re done, make sure to bag and throw away any sponges you use in the process so that mold spores don’t spread to your trash can.
It’s a good idea to clean appliances that are prone to moisture at least once a month with bleach or hydrogen peroxide. You can keep your clothes mold-free by running an empty cycle of your washer with hot water.
Mold is next to impossible to get out of fabrics once it’s taken hold, so you’re better off simply get rid of the contaminated areas. Be sure to bag them and take them outside so the spores don’t spread.
Mold loves moistures, so the best way to keep it at bay is to keep indoor humidity below 60 percent. Many HVAC systems will do this automatically, but if yours doesn’t or you don’t have an HVAC system, try setting up humidifiers in rooms that are more prone to mold. In the colder months, keep the house warm, because cold air inside can cause condensation to form — another mold attractor. If condensation forms around windows and doors, try adding insulation. If you notice any leaks in your house, have them fixed as soon as possible. Finally, try to keep doors open between rooms to help warm air reach the colder parts of the house. You can also increase air circulation by installing ceiling fans.